Edition 129, February 2024

Cell Phones for Soldiers: Leveraging ESG & Circular Economy Principles to Connect the Military Community

By Rob Bergquist, Cell Phones For Soldiers

In April of 2024 Cell Phones for Soldiers (CPFS) will celebrate 20 years having proudly assisted the United States military community. Every recognition our organization has received since it’s inception is dedicated to the servicemembers of the United States military, who have bravely conscripted and served on order to protect our country and the innumerable vulnerable people around the world.

The mission of CPFS began in 2004 when my 13 year old sister, Brittany, and I [then 12 years old] groggily prepared as the voluminous projection of the local news echoed through our house. Our ears perked when we heard the story of a local serviceman’s $8,000 cell phone bill, tallied as he called home to check in with his wife and young son while stationed in Afghanistan during the early war’s heaviest urban combat. We felt compelled to help and decided that day to collect spare lunch money from friends in an effort to relieve his burden. What began as a small drop in the $8000 bucket precipitated our assembly of a car wash and bake sale to help a Private - of a similar age to my own age now - relieve himself of a hardship he should never have had to face. Within a matter of weeks, the mobile company responsible had dismissed this Private’s bill entirely and my sister and I subsequently received national notoriety for our efforts. We were grateful that this young father, so far from his son and wife, was no longer burdened by this debt. But because of the news coverage, our effort to help service members continued to gain traction. As the story spread, donations poured in - not only monetary donations from individuals, but also from the bank with whom we had entrusted the donations thus far received. With these donations came requests for assistance. As a family, we knew we needed to use the already collected funds to help the countless other active duty service members who were grappling with the advent of mobile phones and their accompanying bills.

The Bergquist family decided to launch a nonprofit called Cell Phones for Soldiers. It’s aim: provide calling cards to connect deployed service members with their friends and family at home, free of charge.

As with any grassroots organization whose cause strikes a nerve with the public, confusion resulted. Thousands of used cell phones were donated and mailed to our family home. Boxes filled the living room and soon the entire first floor of our family home. Since phones could not be sent directly overseas, Cell Phones for Soldiers pivoted to recycling the donated devices to generate revenue for the calling cards we intended to share. Until our parents sold our childhood home in retirement in 2019, we continued to receive donated cell phones, calling cards, and notes of recognition, for which we are eternally grateful and which give us the fuel to continue in our mission. Each phone, calling card, or letter has been either used to provide assistance to an American service member or has been stored in our family archive to represent the impact made by each and every donation.

Nearly 20 years later, Cell Phones for Soldiers has ethically recycled more than 25 million cell phones, generating enough revenue to provide more than 450 million minutes’ worth of call time, connecting American service members stationed domestically and abroad, to their families and friends back home.

Today, CPFS evolves its mission to provide connectivity solutions to the military community with the launch of its Cell Phones for Soldiers Mobile program. Together with our mobile partners, our family charity can repurpose cell phone device donations and pair them with mobile phone services for homeless or low-income Veterans who have returned to the United States.

Our nonprofit has set the lofty goal of connecting 20,000 Veterans in the next three years with free phones and mobile service so they can stay connected to all the resources they need to re-assimilate into civilian life in good health and spirit. We look forward to continuing our legacy of service to those who have given everything for our country and we encourage every service member to contact us as a leading provider in bringing America’s people together again.

Rob Bergquist
Rob Bergquist is Director & Co-Founder of Cell Phones for Soldiers. Founding with his sister Brittany at ages 12 and 13 in 2004, he continues to run the operation to collect used electronics to generate revenue to provide cost-free communication services to active duty military and Veterans. His passion is social entrepreneurship with a focus towards the military and sustainability.